The New Zealand Maori league team could face off against their Australian Aboriginal equivalents in a blockbuster match later this year.

The game, which could see Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston up against former Kiwis captain Benji Marshall, has been pencilled in for late June, on the same weekend as the Pacific Test Invitational series in Sydney

The match is yet to be confirmed, but New Zealand Maori coach Mark Horo is hopeful it will happen.

"It would be enormous to play them," said Horo. "We are just waiting for a couple of boxes to be ticked and we should know quite soon. It would be a hell of a extravaganza if we could nail it ... there is a lot of upside."


It would be a smart move by the NRL, especially with the increasing appetite in Australia for more recognition of indigenous culture and community.

Thurston's presence would be massive. In 2018 he will be embarking on a farewell tour of the NRL, with various celebrations as he plays at each venue for the last time.

He retired from representative football (Queensland and Kangaroos) last year, but the indigenous cause is close to his heart, as he demonstrated with his recent widely publicised comments about the timing of Australia Day.

And Thurston tends to front. Despite his extensive playing workload over the years, he has been a virtual ever present for the Indigenous side in their annual All Stars match, only missing one game (due to World Club Challenge commitments) since the pre-season concept began in 2010.

Marshall will begin his 16th NRL season this year, as he returns 'home' to the Tigers, and remains one of the most recognisable and high profile league players on either side of the Tasman.

"It would be a hell of a match up and also a great tribute to these two for what they have done for their countries, and for their indigenous communities," said Horo. "Thurston is definitely going to retire, Benji is probably not that far away and it would be a wonderful thing to see both those players with their teams. It would be a promoters dream, be great for both communities and big for league as well."

Such a match would also break a long drought for the Maori side.

The last time they faced a fully fledged international side was in 2010 against England.

The match was played ahead of the Four Nations and the Maori team, featuring Kevin Locke, James Tamou, Russell Packer and Kevin Proctor drew 18-18 with the Lions in Auckland.

"For me, as a spokesman for Maori rugby league, it's been way too long," said Horo. "We need to be playing more often, especially with the talent out there."

There is a small step in the right direction this weekend, as Horo will oversee an emerging New Zealand Maori squad against the Laurie Daley coached First Nation Goannas this Saturday.

The match, which will be the culmination of the NRL's Festival of Indigenous Rugby League, is restricted to players drawn from outside the top 25 squad at each NRL club, as well as the second tier NSW and Queensland Cup competitions.

"It's a great chance for someone to make a name for themselves," said Horo, who has fellow former Kiwis Paul Whatuira and Bronson Harrison on his coaching staff. "We've got some guys that are hopefully going to grab the opportunity."

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